A more casual hockey fan might take a look at the standings, see the Winnipeg Jets placed comfortably in the Western Conference playoff picture, and assume that it’s business as usual.
Yet, after a bruising offseason that cost Winnipeg the likes of Dustin Byfuglien (barring a surprising turnaround), Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers, the Jets aren’t nearly the balanced contender they were even as things got a little wonky toward the latter half of 2018-19.
On paper, one could picture the Jets channeling the back-to-back Cup-winning Penguins, or maybe the Maple Leafs during their most run-and-gun nights, and just try to outscore their problems. While that might happen here and there in 2019-20, the truth is that they’ve leaned heavily on Connor Hellebuyck.
And so far, he’s more than withstood the challenge.
Consider how much the Jets were depending upon Hellebuyck by this metric even before Friday’s 24-save shutout in a 3-0 win against the Anaheim Ducks:
As of this writing, Hellebuyck is tied for the league lead in wins (13 on a 13-7-1 record) while sporting a strong overall save percentage of .933.
The numbers become even more impressive as you dig deeper. Goals Saved Against Average aims to measure how a goalie would perform compared to their peers, and Hellebuyck shines even brighter there, leading the category at both even-strength (12.71) and all strengths (16.31), according to Natural Stat Trick.
Suspect goal support kept Hellebuyck at a .500 record in October despite strong play, but he’s turned it up a notch in November, recording eight of the Jets’ 10 wins (with Laurent Brossoit getting the other two victories this month by way of 4-3 wins).
Considering the explosive months from Oilers stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, along with plenty of others including Brad Marchand, Hellebuyck’s play might get lost in the shuffle a bit, but it should not.
If nothing else, there’s some local buzz for Hellebuyck’s MVP-like performance, as Blake Wheeler pointed out to the Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck.
Now, it’s fair to wonder how long Hellebuyck can maintain a pace anywhere close to that torrid November. Even so, it’s worth realizing that this strong work is coming at a key time. The Jets played six of their last seven games on the road, and will wrap things up with one more away game when they face the Kings in Los Angeles on Saturday. They’ve won all but one game during that swing so far, excelling where they could have crumbled, and Hellebuyck has easily been the main reason for those triumphs.
This isn’t exactly how everyone expected the Jets to succeed if they managed to do so this season (again, I figured they might just win a lot of goal-soaked slugfests), so credit Hellebuyck with quite the run.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.